Googling someone is a conundrum for me. It’s one thing to search for interesting nuggets about celebrities and public figures; they’ve made a deal with the devil. But online investigations of people I know, sort of know, or might one day know feels naughty, like I’m peeking through a keyhole into someone’s dressing room. Nevertheless, the temptation was too much. There was something unusual about Dr. Nelson and I wanted to know what it was.

While our host was upstairs overseeing the preparation of yet another deceptively healthy and delicious dinner designed specifically for our individual well-beings, I was huddled over my laptop looking for clues in his digital profile. Chris was outside watching the tractor taxis collect their evening arrivals, and I lowered the screen just enough to hide its contents from his view. When the search results appeared, my heart did a little disco dance.

I scrolled past the dozens of luxury travel articles about the retreat and drilled deeper. It didn’t take long to find the personal information I was looking for. Voyeur guilt washed over me, but I entered a new combination of search terms anyway. Then bingo. There it was, more astonishing than I’d even expected: it seems that 1080 poison wasn’t the only killer on the island. Our sangfroid sensei and meditation master had finished off someone named Phil and was now on a mission to kill everyone!

Tractor Taxi

“Look at this,” I said to Chris, who had wandered down to our lower-level seating area to get a closer look at the taxis.

“What is it?”

“I found out what the deal is with you-know-who,” I called out. “Come look.”

“What, did you Google him?” He stole a look upstairs at the indoor/outdoor kitchen area.

“I couldn’t help it.” I clicked on the first article and dove into the story about our mysterious host.

Chris stood in the deck doorway. “You know, he’s right upstairs. What if he knows what you’re doing?” he whispered.

“How’s he going to know that?”

“You never know. It’s his Internet connection.”

“That’s true. If he finds out we’ve looked him up online, he might kill us next!” I looked at him with eyes as big as cucumber slices.

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“Excuse me?” Chris grabbed the laptop and read the article slowly. When he finished he plopped into the club chair next to the bed, his eyebrows jacked to the top of his forehead. “Wow. That explains a lot.”

“No kidding. It’s a whole new dimension to the practice of Zen,” I said. I got a glass of water and thought about what I’d read as I paced our room. Those trophies in the meditation/theater room were only part of the story. We were in the midst of a champion poker player who had made the final table at televised tournaments so many times (twenty in four years) that his nickname was just that: Final Table.

One of the most prolific winners in Australian tournament poker history, Dr. Nelson has won more than $2.5 million in his career, nearly triple the amount of any other player from New Zealand. It’s an achievement that has landed him in the Australian Poker Hall of Fame. Which is probably why his books on tournament poker — Kill Phil, Kill Everyone, and Raiser’s Edge — are considered among the best for beginners and intermediate-level players.

Sure, Dr. Nelson could teach us a lot about wellness and nutrition, but what I really wanted to know was how he had consistently beat a bevy of poker players and won millions in the process. In an interview with Stephen Bartley in 2006, he gave credit to meditation.

“After I make an all-in bet I just meditate – I just blank out, nobody home. I pick a spot on the table and focus on that for as long as I need to,” he said. “If your mind is racing, you miss too much at the table. There are lots of little things that can be picked up, that you can only observe if you have a blank mind. If you’re thinking ‘I’ve got this hand, what’s he going to do?’ you miss it, you just don’t see.”

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It was a relief to find out that our host really was a meditation master — and that he was a celebrity of sorts, so that I didn’t feel too guilty about Googling him. Still, I was thankful when we arrived for dinner and learned that he had been called away unexpectedly. Because if there’s one thing I don’t possess, it’s a poker face.

Pen tended to our needs instead and delighted us with all kinds of stories about her travels with Dr. Nelson, who we learned was her husband and not her boss.

After dinner, we lingered over our dessert and drinks while the sun set across the bay. Tomorrow morning we would fly to Hawke’s Bay on the North Island. We were eager to see our friends there. After all, they were the main reason we had traveled so far away from home. But we were also reluctant to leave the South Island and the Split Apple Retreat. Even though it had never been a dream destination for either of us, that’s what it had turned out to be. A real royal flush.

4 thoughts on “Notes from New Zealand: Part VIII

  1. You successfully weaved an adventure of intrigue and wonder… finishing it up with wit and a very interesting ending! I pictured your face “with eyes as big as cucumber slices”… only with REAL cucumber slices! Ha ha. You write with such a sense of adventure. I love your inner thoughts, cogs and wheels constantly turning with curiosity – questioning the things we all do. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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